Quick charge vs battery swap: which is better?

Back in the days when a Nissan Leaf barely had enough range to traverse city limits, electric vehicles were seen as a bigger problem than the one they were trying to solve – urban pollution. Not only did they have a limited range of around 70 miles (113 km), but they also lacked fast charging, with charging time taking hours. In addition, there was almost no public office. It was in this context that the idea of ​​battery swapping emerged as the best alternative to battery charging.

The battery swap allowed a fully charged battery to be installed in a matter of minutes. Also, it was seen as a way to lower the price of electric vehicles, as cars were sold essentially without a battery. Instead of, VE the owners paid a subscription for the battery and so the concept of “battery as a service” was born. Better Place was the company that pioneered the concept, but failed to make it popular.

Better Place teamed up with Renault for a trial run in Israel and Denmark, but things ultimately fell apart. Not only was the battery swap station insanely expensive, at $ 2 million each, the Israeli company failed to involve other electric vehicle makers. In 2012, the company was wound up, and the battery swap was ultimately declared one of the most spectacularly failed technologies of the 21st century. But not until Tesla tries (and gives up) offering the battery swap for the Tesla Model S a year later.

Today, battery swapping is still viewed by many as a viable alternative to battery charging. While fast charging has become the norm in Western countries, Chinese companies like Geely and NIO are still pushing in the direction of battery swapping. Both operate an extensive network of auto-swap stations in China that can change a car’s battery in under a minute, without the driver even getting out of the car.

It seems like the nirvana of owning an EV, faster and more convenient than refueling an ICE car in a gas station. NIO announced in September that it has completed the fourth million battery swaps, so it must be successful, at least for NIO and its customers. It looks like we have a solid proposition here, why not make it the norm in the world?

Well, before we jump to any conclusions, we need to look at all aspects of the dilemma between battery swapping and fast charging. Surely there was something that prompted Tesla to abandon the concept in 2013, right? The American company cited several reasons, including cumbersome exchange stations and lack of customer interest, but there are other reasons to consider as well.

Perhaps one of the most important concerns the technical aspects of modern electric vehicles. The Li-Ion battery is arguably the most complex component in an electric car, and they tend to become an integral part of the rigid structure of the car. They usually involve sophisticated temperature management systems to keep them cool during heavy acceleration and warm before plugging them into a fast charger for maximum performance. This means that the water pipes go in and out of the battery. Now you see how big a big no battery replacement is in this case.

In addition, the optimization of batteries for the exchange requires standardization and it is quite difficult to embark several car manufacturers to make it a large-scale company. Hell, they couldn’t even agree on a charge socket. Even for NIO, that means having unique batteries for all of its vehicles. While not impossible, it drastically limits the options for an automaker. It also means simpler designs, less capable vehicles, and shorter battery life, as water cooling is out of the question.

But the final nail in the coffin is the breakneck speed at which electric cars and DC fast-charging stations are advancing. Today’s new electric vehicles regularly offer a range of over 300 miles, with Lucid Air’s EPA range at a maximum of 520 miles. It’s way more than what most people drive on one leg and they still have to stop for coffee anyway, why not do it at a fast-charging station? In 20 minutes you can recharge the battery of a modern car to enable another long trip. In the case of Lucid Air above, we’re talking about around 300 miles of range on a 20-minute charge.

The convenience of fast charging is undeniable, especially when contrasted with the complexity of exchange stations. This also comes with the need to have lots of car batteries lying around and even carry them from station to station depending on the demand of drivers. That’s not to say the battery swap is a dead end. This could be an opportunity for VTC operators and other electric vehicle fleets where even the shortest downtime reduces revenue.


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